Since its inception in 1989, Ann Clark Cookie Cutters has gone from a home-based business in Rutland, Vermont, to one of the largest manufacturers of cookie cutters in the world. Ann’s son, CEO Ben Clark, talks about how the company became a kitchen staple for bakers everywhere.
How did Ann Clark Cookie Cutters begin? How has it evolved?
My mother, Ann, began her journey at the University of Maryland, where she studied art. After years of painting and creating small gifts for local businesses, she had the idea to transform her popular pig-shaped ornament into a cookie cutter. With determination and perseverance, she was able to convince a manufacturer that her designs had merit. The folk-art designs, combined with custom hand-painted recipe cards, were instantly a hit. From there, Ann Clark, Ltd. was formed.
The business started out as a hobby, where the products were primarily made for gift shops and designed exclusively by my mother. Today, the company is a professional operation with a large manufacturing facility. We employ nearly fifty Vermonters and make millions of cookie cutters. My family’s standards for good design, quality products, and competitive American manufacturing have been pillars of the business since the start, making it the success that it is. Our mission is to locally and competitively make quality cookie cutters and to support the community of people who want to use them.
Family seems to be an important part of the company. How has this contributed to the success of the business? Does it cause certain challenges as well?
The family control of the company has allowed us to stick to our principles and keep our manufacturing local,
as well as create a warm and friendly work environment. Of course, there are challenges with family dynamics and how they translate into a workplace, but we do our best to navigate them.
Why did you personally get involved in the business?
When I was getting my MBA, my parents were starting this business. They would tell me about it, and I would have a ton of ideas for how they could improve the business model. A few years later, my wife and I decided to make the move back to Vermont to join them on this endeavor. The appeal was being able to raise our family in the splendor of the Green Mountains and keep our children close to their grandmother.
How do you think the industry has evolved?
Traditionally, cookie cutters were handmade by tinsmiths out of scraps. They focused on simple shapes, such as biscuit cutters, stars, bells, and Christmas trees. As cookie cutters became industrialized, more shapes were introduced: numbers, letters, snowflakes, hearts, and the like. Today, our focus is on those who are looking for a trendy and well-thought-out shape to fit a specific party theme—the people who follow the cookie decorators on social media and want an elegantly decorated cookie to be the star of their event.
What does it mean to have the cutters made in the United States, and, more specifically, how has being based in Vermont shaped Ann Clark Cookie Cutters? What has the company meant to the Rutland area?
New England prides itself on quality Yankee craftsmanship. We see this in the work ethic and the workmanship our employees have. The Vermont business community has been very welcoming, teaching us a tremendous amount about how to run a world-class organization. We also live in a beautiful place with access to great outdoor activities that our employees can enjoy.
We try to share our success in the community as much as possible by supporting local charities and being an active part of the state economy and business culture. We even mentor start-ups to give back to a place that has given so much to us.
How do you ultimately decide on designs?
We encourage customers to tell us what they want. The more requests we get, the more obvious it becomes that it’s a design we need to make. Our creative director ultimately makes the call and drives our design process. It’s a combination of researching market and design trends and listening to feedback.
What is your favorite cookie cutter?
My personal favorite is a custom cookie cutter we made for Virginia Tech. My daughter attends college there, and it was very exciting to see a product we made in her school bookstore.
What is the company’s best-selling cookie cutter?
It has changed over the years. When we were primarily in the gift business, my mom’s moose shape was very popular. The year the New Orleans Saints won the Super Bowl, the fleur-de-lis was the best-selling shape. When we began selling to larger stores, the snowflake took the lead. Today, with the increase of online sales, the number ‘one’ has proven to be very popular.
How has the response been to offering customizable cookie cutters? What are some interesting requests you’ve gotten?
Our custom cookie-cutter business is certainly welcomed by businesses and organizations. We’ve developed over a thousand custom projects, including custom cookie cutters of the Michelin Man and the GEICO Gecko, as well as designing Egyptian hieroglyphics and sports team mascots. We’ve worked with over a hundred universities as well, who sell them in their bookstores. One unusual request was a cardiology group who wanted an anatomical heart-shaped cookie cutter.
Who are some other notable people or institutions who have used or featured your cookie cutters?
Last year, we were asked to represent Vermont at the Made in America Product Showcase at the White House. The White House pastry chef was the first person to reach our table and take samples. To have our cookie cutters being used in the White House still leaves us speechless.
What is the holiday season like at Ann Clark Cookie Cutters?
From late summer to the week before Christmas, our facility can’t make or ship cookie cutters fast enough. Each year, we increase capacity and change processes to make this period run smoother. We want to make sure that people who decide to have a cookie-making party the week before Christmas can get our products quickly. The cookie cutters also make great gifts. There’s an element of thoughtfulness to giving the gift of making cookies because you’re helping to create happy holiday memories for families. That touchpoint we have is very heartwarming.
What do you see for the future of the company?
As cookie decorating has become more and more popular, we always ask ourselves, “How do we make this easier and reach more people?” It is and always will be about making cookie decorating fun and easy for people everywhere.
For more info, visit annclarkcookiecutters.com